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Three takeaways on sausage-streaking Twins: Royce Lewis watch, rotation's rebound and more

·4 mins

When it comes to sports, SOS is typically the designation for strength of schedule. For the Minnesota Twins, it refers to strength of sausage. The team’s rally summer sausage made it across the border and so did its winning ways. Carlos Santana homered for a third straight day, Max Kepler extended his career-best hitting streak to 14 with a key two-run double and Bailey Ober was dominant as the Twins topped the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 on Sunday afternoon, clinching a sixth straight series victory. The Twins have won 17 of 20 and are 24-16, on pace for 97 victories. Stagnation getting to Royce Lewis Royce Lewis is going stir-crazy. He feels ready to ramp up activities but is still in a holding pattern. Now 6 1/2 weeks into his rehab from a severe right quad strain, Lewis feels like he’s healthier than a lot of his teammates who are on the active roster. But an MRI last week showed he’s still experiencing inflammation that’s preventing him from full clearance. Even so, Lewis is hitting in the cage, taking grounders and running at 85 percent. Mental hurdles are familiar to Manager Rocco Baldelli. He experienced several injuries as a player for which there often was no explanation, and eventually retired at age 29. He suspects he knows exactly how Lewis feels. Lewis appreciates that the Twins want to protect him from reinjury. But it doesn’t make it any easier to accept the waiting. ‘All signs point to, I’m healthy,’ Lewis said. Rookie stabilizes starting rotation Though Saturday’s outing was the worst of a Rookie’s career, there’s little doubt he’s helped make the Twins’ starting rotation shelf stable. Louie Varland was removed from the rotation after his April 21 outing and the Rookie joined the group four days later. Since April 22, the Twins have boasted one of the best rotations in baseball. Entering Sunday, Twins starters were 11-1 with a 3.28 ERA in 107 innings pitched since the swap was made. The innings pitched ranked third in the major leagues, the ERA rated ninth and the team’s strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine were tops in the majors. Pablo López is averaging a career-best 11.3 strikeouts per nine. Those three had fewer questions to answer. How Chris Paddack would fare and who manned the other spot were the focus. Paddack still hasn’t worked with his best changeup this season and yet he’s started to find consistency in his past four outings. Aside from his April 16 start, Paddack has been good. Woods Richardson is a Rookie and will occasionally remind us of that, as he did Saturday when he couldn’t complete five innings and allowed Toronto to start its comeback. But he’s had enough good moments to solidify the rotation — for now. Woods Richardson must improve on the road. He also needs to adjust back when the league adjusts to him. At some point, the Twins likely will need rotation help. Whether it’s Varland, Triple-A prospect David Festa or someone outside the organization who provides it remains to be seen. Bullpen consistency needed Earlier in the week, we detailed some of the issues facing the Twins’ bullpen. With two pitchers injured, the Twins have struggled to find consistency beyond their top relievers. Jhoan Duran and Griffin Jax have been great. One pitcher was lights out but went on the injured list. Another’s return is still to be determined after he had an MRI on his left knee. But the Twins need more answers behind their high-leverage group. Jhoan Duran and Griffin Jax have been great. Before he was injured, a pitcher was lights out. A veteran is struggling like never before. Josh Staumont was promoted and his early returns are encouraging. He’s throwing his slider a ton and generating swings-and-misses. Cole Sands has struggled in May after showing signs and producing some nice moments. Kody Funderburk was terrific Sunday, inheriting a bases-loaded jam from Sands and pitching out of it with minimal damage. He has great stuff but has been streaky. Jorge Alcála has outstanding stuff and has delivered plenty of spectacular moments, but he seemingly undoes much of it with blemishes like Tuesday against the Mariners, when he didn’t cover the plate on a run-scoring wild pitch. The ingredients are there for a top bullpen, but health and inconsistency are preventing it thus far.